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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner from the Countess Carnarvon
Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey Lady Catherine is every bit the equal of its NY Times best-selling predecessor. This sequel to Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey has epic scope and characters worthy of a Julian Fellowes script. The Countess Carnarvon weaves between history and a deep range of fascinating players shattered and then threatened by...
Published 8 months ago by Stephen M. Wilson

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bringing to life a "very modern story in a beautiful and fabled setting."
3.5 stars - Another fascinating glimpse into life and times at Highclere Castle during the 1920s and 30s. Highlights include the military campaigns of WW II and some details about the castle owners and occupants with their personal tragedies and triumphs.

The author uses primary research material from Highclere Castle archives to tell the story of Lady...
Published 9 months ago by Denise Crawford


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bringing to life a "very modern story in a beautiful and fabled setting.", October 21, 2013
3.5 stars - Another fascinating glimpse into life and times at Highclere Castle during the 1920s and 30s. Highlights include the military campaigns of WW II and some details about the castle owners and occupants with their personal tragedies and triumphs.

The author uses primary research material from Highclere Castle archives to tell the story of Lady Catherine (Wendell), an American woman who marries "Porchy" the 6th Earl of Carnarvon.

Definitely a book that fans of the PBS drama "Downton Abbey" will find compelling as the reader discovers that the lives of the aristocrats were not as charmed and wonderful as the fairy tales we'd like to believe. I was more interested in the Castle and its occupants and wish the book would have concentrated more on those details rather than the long chapters describing every battle of the war and the movement of troops. I am more interested in thoughts and feelings of all who lived there that would come from diaries, rather than from guest lists for parties. I loved all the photographs! The book is not really biography, but more a selected portrait of a period in history written by a member of the family showing all in the best light possible. I will likely read another and hope the focus moves to people rather than events. You may want to find a copy of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle and read it prior to this one to get full background and historical information.

Thank you to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for a copy of the ebook for review.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner from the Countess Carnarvon, November 6, 2013
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This review is from: Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey (Paperback)
Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey Lady Catherine is every bit the equal of its NY Times best-selling predecessor. This sequel to Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey has epic scope and characters worthy of a Julian Fellowes script. The Countess Carnarvon weaves between history and a deep range of fascinating players shattered and then threatened by world war.

Her tale begins where Almina left off, with the lost generation of the Twenties. In contrast to both Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey and the Tut's Tomb discovering 5th Earl of Carnarvon, this generation's Lord Carnarvon (Porchy) is a high-living bon vivant. He marries an American without wealth, then inherits a huge burden without the Rothschild money of his mother. Turning his focus to the the high life in London and horse racing, Porchy leaves his depressed wife to raise his family in a lonely castle.

But that only sets the table for an amazing series of heroic characters from Highclere, especially war hero butler Robert Taylor and Catherine's children Henry and Penelope, to rise to the challenge of World War 2. Lady Catherine transforms from lost American debutante to partner with a great British naval hero, who courageously saves a King from Nazi submarines. The author once again weaves a tale of romance, heartbreaking loss and heroism. The Countess restores Highclere and even the thrice married 'naughty' Earl to positions as bastions of noblesse oblige, all while World War 2 threatens to destroy Highclere and England. Lady Catherine is a wonderful read.
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83 of 106 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Full of Misdemeanours and Sloppy Errors, October 26, 2013
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The basis of this elegantly written sketch on the life and times of Catherine Wendell, the Sixth Countess of Carnarvon - with a fleeting glance at Tilly Losch, the other Sixth Countess- is that it's another Highclere spin off to cash-in on its television fame. Both women married Henry, ( better known as Porchey Carnarvon) the Sixth Earl, who spent his life hunting, shooting and flirting.

The Earl was a rascal who rode race horses and was an over active sex pest to womankind. The Carnarvons display courage in declaring the American born Lady Catherine had a drink problem with bouts of depression and despair.

Having made a close study of Catherine's life ( and spoken with people who knew her) I conclude that it is not as simple as that. The reasons for Catherine almost never being sober are complicated and alas not well enough explained here.

The ghost writer could have improved the reader's understanding of Porchey living with Catherine's drink issue by veering away from the copious and meaningless references to the Duff Coopers in the book ( since neither Diana nor Duff make any worthwhile reference to Highclere in their letters/ memoirs/ diaries ) and instead draw ideas from Debo Devonshire's worthy and compelling account of her husband, Andrew Cavendish's darker moments of being heavilly drink infused in the excellent book, Wait For Me!

I know precisely what Catherine confided to Almina ( the Fifth Countess, Porchey's mother ). From that account there are stark differences ( not tackled here ), Catherine carried burdens including the horrors of a shattered childhood after her father died suddenly when she was aged ten.

From Almina viewing the attractive, reverential, refugee, Catherine, first as a gold digger ( which she certainly was, she was skint before marriage to Porchey ) the two women found an enmity, against the same foe, Porchey, they became life long friends and allies and shared secrets and lies.

Married off to the Carnarvon heir, in 1922, Porchey's serial infidelities gave further just cause for Catherine's fall into inebriation, inflamed by his abuses too ( he repeatedly nagged and slagged her off), that detail is missing from the narrative, although the inferences of bullying are there, and that is of some merit.

Catherine's own dreadful health issues are sidelined. There is a reference in the book to the glorious years of 1926 and 1927 asserted as the marriage's happiest period but in fact this was when Catherine suffered a complete nervous breakdown and was treated for serious gynaecological problems by the famous Leeds surgeon Sir Berkeley Moynihan, requiring months in a Swiss sanatorium to recuperate.

The Carnarvons are entitled to say that another reason for Catherine's depression was the sudden loss of the 28year-old Reggie Wendell, her jobless brother ( a betting chum of Porchey's); that grief inevitably hit her ( and others ) very hard. But the actual event of Reggie's pitiful death scene at Highclere Castle is not accurately recorded in the book and the people involved and chronology has been altered or those who compiled this were not aware ( which is even more damning on the research process as a whole) of the very full and frank account from Mary Van der Woude (a Wendell cousin who was actually present when Reggie slipped into oblivion )). Mary's letters to her mother are held by the wonderful Portsmouth Athenaeum in the State of Maine -USA - where many of the remarkable Wendell family papers can be found, ( as well as at Harvard University).

Sadly ( despite the combined resources of the Highclere Archives, the Herbert family, an international publisher, a ghost writer, archivists and researchers) many of the other central particulars linking the story together are unsound, even some shocking errors including a rewrite of history which claims that Lord Kitchener died at the Battle of Jutland but which was over before the ship HMS Hampshire he was travelling on, hit a mine and sunk !

A similar sloppy error can be found in a reference to the reception after Catherine married a second time in 1938. One of the hosts, Percy Griffiths, is mentioned as taking part in fact fell off a horse and died the previous year!

Good prose masks many howlers as does a Readers Digest version of some 20th century history frolics with an irksome tendency to sweep too many irrelevant people and places with an unnecessary timeline of the non- players in the dull tales of Prime Ministers, and seedy diplomats downwards including an appalling chunk of inflated Porchey history on the Abdication crisis ( where Porchey claims fame in his wildly inaccurate memoirs which are repeated, but is just as inaccurate as they were when he regaled them to his ghost writer, Barry Wynne. in 1976 and on the Michael Parkinson Show).

This extra data pads out the book but it will not appeal to the common herd ( as Almina, the Fifth Countess dubbed those beneath her ) : those who follow Downton Abbey, who either lust or are shocked over rape and drugs and parlour games in and out of jazz clubs in coat tails or corsetry ) and it all spoils the plot, for Catherine's story is worth telling, but she was ( like Almina ) no angel, another flaw in the book, since her infidelities ( that were a clamour for genuine love ) or her irresponsible gambling excesses ( much to Porchey's horror and reprimands, and he bet foolishly too ), or Catherine spiting him by bedding several famous historical figures, of course that gets left unmentioned de facto but can be inferred from the dramatis persona, if the reader is smart enough to see through the veneer. Against the odds too Catherine made a passable Highclere chatelaine, she had good taste and style in fashion trends and make up innovations of the age. She was a good looking woman her whole life, despite the knocks and the fact that she felt despised and humiliated by Porchey and was crippled emotionally by a perceived embarrassment possessed by her own son. Catherine was left out in the cold especially when the young Lord Porchester ( later the Seventh Earl ) walked high with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. The bankrupt granny, Almina, was also snubbed by the House of Windsor. Almina snubbed back!

Some parts of the book are adequate and praiseworthy. Catherine's loss of her second husband Geoffrey Grenfell is moving and well captured. The interesting testimony of servants and their fate in war time and peace is fascinating and a redeeming feature of the book is there are some wonderful photographs.

Lady Almina gets heroic coverage- but it's not always accurate. By the way, she was NOT an American, she was born in London, in Bayswater! Nor did she take two days to reach Egypt in 1923, when Lord Carnarvon lay poleaxed, awaiting death. Nor did she travel all the way out there in a by-plane ! The plane came down in France and Almina ( after she took ill) had to continue by rail, ship and rail again before reaching the Continetal Hotel, Cairo. This pilgrimage was not an expression of love ( Almina was always afraid of Carnarvon, she never loved him) it was the action of a nurse, who had saved lives of men in the Great War in her nursing homes, she knew she could help end Lordy's suffering and did just that.

The lethal details of the decades of vileness between Almina and her son Porchey is not surprisingly massaged out of the book. Incidentally, Almina's second husband, Colonel Dennistoun did not break his hip nor was he in a wheel chair at least until the mid 1930s when Almina bought him a motorised chair to sail his miniature boats at Hove and Brighton and on the Solent. Almina's collection of photographs of the Colonel show him walking unaided to and from their homes at Temple Dinsley and Eastmore, Isle of Wight until 1935-6. She married him because he was useful to her purpose of money laundering the hundreds of thousands of pounds left to her by her guardian, Alfred de Rothschild in assets at his town house at 1, Seamore Place, which Almina used as her main home ( not Highclere ), from 1919 . Moreover ( as can be gleaned from the Court evidence in Denniston v Dennistoun in 1925 ) Almina first met the Colonel in 1922, when the Fifth Earl was still very much alive.

The primary source of the present narrative appears to be the Visitor's Book at Highclere Castle ( and a sprinkling of family letters ) and this limits it's scope; as a result it's top heavy with dullness and streams of dull house party guests, horse racing and shooting chums of Porchey. The ubiquitous mention of Prince George ( PG) ( later Duke of Kent who was killed in 1942) is curious and needs more conclusion. PG was as frequent a presence at Highclere Castle as Prince Victor Duleep Singh was at the time of the Fifth Earl, the generation before. The reasons are not properly identified for its possibly similar an astounding likeness to Duleep's purpose of saving the Carnarvon blood line. The Sixth Earl's successful career as a jockey and horse breeder would have been good to see breached , as well as more on his war time exchanges with his son Porchester in the very interesting and entertaining Carnarvon Letters, published in 1992.

Catherine's pedigree ( which is triumphantly matched into American history and well known figures at that, with a family tree to show them off, well, that's fine ) but her childhood ( with her siblings and Wendell grandmother) in New York and in Kitterey, near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA gets only a few lines as does her important developmental years at the home of the Griffiths family ( who were well to do cousins of Catherine's mother, Marian ) at Sandridgebury, Sandridge, St Albans, Hertfordshire where her mother ( a remarkable marriage fixer to equal Dolly Levi ) was given a roof over her head in 1911 after sensibly fleeing with her four children far away from her late husband's creditors. The part the Griffiths' played in Catherine's life is insufficiently chartered.

We are also left knowing very little ( or anything that is reliable ) about Catherine's colourful dad, Jacob Wendell Jnr, ( a businessman turned actor in New York), his rogue gene pool, his influences upon her, or follow up of his other daughter, Philippa, Catherine's younger sister who went on to be the 12th Countess of Galloway. The book is quite wrong in recording Randolph Stewart ( Philippa's only son, the present 13th Earl of Galloway ) as being an epileptic. They can't bring themselves to say ` schizophrenic' but is a more accurate term. I've talked to friends of Randolph. Moreover, his whole life ( in the book : An Unlikely Countess Lily Budge and the 13th Earl of Galloway:) was ruined after his parents forced him to be lobotomized. Catherine was his godmother, she could not do anything to stop the butchery that still haunts this poor wretch daily.

The Highclere book ends suddenly in 1945 before so much else befalls the main characters. Is Catherine ( saved it seemed by a conversion from alcoholism to Roman Catholicism) destined to spend her Christmases at retreats as plain `Mary Herbert' among the Bethany nuns? Does she live happy ever after, or not? After the Tanis Guinness affair ( a girl whom Porchey attempted to marry ( even before divorced from Catherine : a story well told in the book ) who else does Porchey try to line up as his next duped Countess? How were Porchey and Catherine's last days spent, in more than just one sentence, please!!! And what of dear old Tilly Losch, the dancer who married Porchey ( for hard cash and a wobbly coronet ) in 1939, what became of the dancing Countess of Carnarvon? What a gal! You will have to look elsewhere for the answers!

Does this current book leave one's appetite whetting for more? The answer, probably is yes and no. Yes, if it's more accurately drawn ( which would mean Olympic somersaults in parts in this and in the earlier book on Lady Almina ); but no, if it is all another contrived piece of too much hokum history with real ( or more like sugary ) pieces thrown into a sponge cake like glace cherries. There are not always happy endings, Downton shows us this bitter truth well. Whilst this text is as craftily worked as a Downton Abbey script the real truth ( they keep telling us it is here but isn't, not in total ). That disturbing, hidden truth is even more astonishing. There the courage shown initially in revealing Catherine's drink problem ends!

Overall, I found the book readable as a piece of writing but on facts as difficult as a gobstopper to swallow whole. The poor research is bad show given the extent of the resources available to the Carnarvon and publisher's army of backroom workers. The book is no more than a quick fix on Catherine's life. As with its earlier title on Almina, another Carnarvon Countess there are misdemeanours in the story telling and they know it! The sloppiness goes all the way to the end with Catherine's age at death being given as 79 (in fact she was 76). I would have been more than happy to co-operate to ensure that all the errors were expunged.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If You Love Downton Abbey, You’ll Adore “Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey”, November 17, 2013
If you, like me, watch enthralled as each new episode of “Downton Abbey” arrives, you’ll love this book written by the current Countess of Carnarvon. This is one of those wonderful books where the facts are almost better than the fiction. Exceptionally well-written and entertaining, “Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey” picks up the story of the Earls of Carnarvon in the early 1920’s and follows the family and the house’s fortunes through the Second World War. Catherine Wendell, an American, met Lord Porchester (later the sixth Earl of Carnarvon) when she was just 19. Not long after their marriage in 1922, Lord Porchester’s father died and they assumed the running of the family home, Highclere (familiar to television fans as the fictional Downton Abbey.) Beset by financial problems, the future of the house was precarious.
“Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey” reads like a wonderful piece of historical fiction, with the added bonus of it being fact. You’ll find yourself enthralled with the intimate details of the efforts of this young couple to save the family home as well as the numerous and charming details of life both above and below stairs at Highclere. Even if you’re not a fan of “Downton Abbey”, this is great piece of history, an intimate account of one family’s experience set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing time.
This book was provided to me by the publisher for this review. The opinions, however, are entirely my own!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Downton Abbey's manor house bases, February 4, 2014
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This review is from: Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey (Paperback)
Splendid account by the current duchess of events and people who comprise the fictional settings for the Masterpiece phenomenon. With historical events, a cast of real-life characters, costs of parties, wardrobes, staff wages, and maintenance of the estate, we are provided a scenario of life in a very class-conscious Britain that was changed dramatically, although somewhat subtly, by WWI and even moreso by WWII. As a frequent visitor to the U.K. in the 70s and early 80s, I became aware of lingering symptoms of loss as I observed British travelers in countryside hotels who may have come from landed gentry and their well-staffed manor houses, treating hall porters, waiters, concierges, and shop assistants as though they were downstairs scullery laborers. While no one does "old" like the Brits, with history on every corner and at every crossroad, I am reminded somewhat of my own travels in the South of this country, visiting plantations with Georgian-style architecture and sweeping lawns and landscaping, only to find glimpses of the slave quarters that allowed these "growers" to live like European aristocracy. Sociology comes out of the textbook. The earlier work about Lady Almina was also a great read!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life on a Grand Scale, November 19, 2013
Lady Catherine, The Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey, by the current Countess Carnarvon, Fiona, is a must for any Anglophile. Particularly, those who are addicted to Downton Abbey. This is the second book by Countess Carnarvon. The first was 2011's Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey : The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.

Both books center around the Countess of the title. Lady Almina was the chatelaine during the first World War, and was the mother of the titular Earl of the second book. She was the natural daughter of Alfred de Rothschild and brought an influx of wealth and glamour to life at Highclere Castle. Her husband was the Egyptologist Earl of Carnarvon, who along with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen. Her daughter-in-law Catherine, is the focus of the second book, set during the 1920's and through World War II. Catherine and her husband "Porchey" are the grandparents of the current Earl of Carnarvon, (whose wife Fiona is the author of the series).

The real centerpiece of the books of course, is the fabulous Highclere Castle, much like the fictional Downton Abbey is that of the PBS series. The family sees itself as the stewards of an estate that has offered jobs, focus, and history for the surrounding countryside and England itself. When so many of the great houses have been lost, especially during the time frame of the two books, one has to admire the persistence and downright cleverness employed by the family in order to maintain and retain the magnificent estate.

But the lifestyle is the most intriguing facet of the story. Catherine Wendell was the daughter of an upper class American family living in reduced circumstances in London after World War I. Popular and pretty, she met and married Lord Porchester ("Porchey" to family and friends) and started her married life as the bride of an army officer stationed in India. Her father-in-law, the famous Lord Carnarvon (of the "curse of Tut" fame) died soon after, and the young couple took up residence at Highclere Castle, the seat of the Earls since 1679. They soon establish themselves as a part of the elegantly aristocratic set that included royalty, politicians, gadabouts and the fabulously rich. Racing, shooting weekends, and house parties are described in great detail, and vividly come to life.

One strength of the book is that the lives of the staff are also examined in great detail. In an age when all of the footman are called "Charles" despite their real names, it is a little touching (and hopeful0 to see how interwoven the lives and fortunes of the family and staff are. When Highclere Castle's existence is threatened due to the reckless spending of forefathers, and new taxes, the lifestyle and livelihood of the whole county are affected. The estate is saved, thanks to an influx of money by Almina, the sale of a number of art works, and the advancement of the racing stud by Porchey.

Of course, being down-on your-luck Highclere style is still pretty darn fabulous. This is not a story of scrimping and saving. Life at Highclere seems to be full of hunting, parties and trips abroad. Ultimately, wealth, birth and privilege do not completely protect one from sadness and loss. Having established himself as a bon vivant, Porchey also established himself as a womanizer, and the marriage with Catherine ended in 1936. She was devastated, turned to drink for solace, and remained fragile for some years, until a happier (albeit brief) marriage to Geoffrey Grenfell restored her self-esteem. She married Don Momand ten years after Geoffreys death, again happily. Porchey remarried Tilly Losch, the dancer, actor and choreographer , but not happily, and remained single thereafter, although not without companions.

Most interesting to me were the famous figures that flitted through the Carnarvon's life at Highclere. Prince George, the Duke of Kent was one of Porchey's best friends, as was the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill-Spencer. Randolph Churchill (the son of Winston Churchill) was an intimate, and the young King Edward VII was part of their set before abdicating to marry Wallace Simpson. Evelyn Waugh and the Duff Cooper's were also visitors to the grand house. Porchey's second wife was Tilley Losch, an actress who brought a touch of Hollywood to Highclere, as did Catherine's mother who was close friends with Adele Astaire (now Lady Cavendish). Political figures, royalty, aristocrats and the wealthy are all a part of life at Highclere Castle.

Also interesting were the World War II stories. The years leading up to the war, the Blitz, and the first years of the War are brought vividly to life by the author. The effects of the war on Highclere are dramatic...it becomes a sanctuary for children from London who are escaping the bombs of London, a training facility, and farmed as a source of produce for the countryside. And the family and staff stepped right up to the challenges and sacrifices war demands. One staff member, the valet-turned-butler Robert Taylor, was a war hero whose romance and war exploits are recorded in detail.

The elements that make the TV Show Downton Abbey so fascinating are the same things that capture us in real life: the magnificent beauty of the home itself; the privileged lifestyle; the famous (and infamous) characters; the nostalgia for a time that is gone' and the just plain glamour of it all make this a most compelling read.

My thanks to NetGalley and Crown Publishing for a copy to review.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed this book, possibly even more than the Countess' first one, April 17, 2014
This review is from: Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey (Paperback)
It's less revealing of the "real" Downton Abbey than the previous book by Countess Carnavorn, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, but I still found it an interesting and enjoyable read. It's particularly interesting to get a glimpse into what life was like for the English (and American) upper classes in the 1920's and '30's. This book follows the life of Catherine Wendell, wife of the 6th Earl of Carnarvon, as well as the later years of her mother-in-law, Lady Almina.

The events and scandals of the day are certainly interesting (particularly Lady Almina's unlikely involvement in a divorce trial), but the thing I found the most interesting was the history of Highclere Castle itself. Like the fictional Crawley family from Downton Abbey, the Carnarvons have had to adjust to changing times and fight to keep Highclere. The book details the ways the family has struggled to pay taxes, maintain the farmlands and retain ownership of their estate, all things mirrored by their television counterparts. But one of the things that has recently secured the future of Highclere Castle is the show itself. Allowing Downton Abbey to be shot onsite and opening the castle up to visitors has provided a much needed financial cushion for the Carnarvons in order to maintain the expensive castle.

So meta.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lady Catherine, The Earl and Downton Abbey, November 8, 2013
This was an interesting book. I think most Americans like the English way of life. Not necessarily to live it but just to read and watch it. I was always interested in Lord Carnarvon' s interest in King Tut but I left it at his death. Then along came Downton Abbey and the recent Lords and Ladies Carnarvon come back into my life.This book doesn't hold back. You read some part of their lifestyle and you so wish it was you. Then it gets serious and you are glad it's NOT you. Everyone should read this book and learn what being a Lord or Lady entails. I am glad I read about them. How about you?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!, January 28, 2014
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Interesting historical information about Highclere castle. As well as about World War II. I highly 'recommend! BE sure to read the first book before you read this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic book, July 11, 2014
Fun too find the parallels between this book and the television series. The facts about life for English s citizens during WWII gave an interesting view of history
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Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey
Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon (Paperback - October 29, 2013)
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